Vitter Requests ?Secret Science? Update Per EPA?s Agreement

For Immediate Release                                                                                 Contact: Luke Bolar

Senator Vitter

Senator Vitter

March 11, 2014                                                                                                (202) 224-4623

Vitter Requests ?Secret Science? Update Per EPA?s Agreement

After decades of stonewalling, EPA agreed to initiate process to release data behind expensive Clean Air Act regulations, but little progress yet

(Washington, D.C.) ? Today, U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, sent a letter to Bob Perciasepe, Assistant Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The letter reminds Perciasepe of EPA?s July 2013 commitment to EPW Republicans that the Agency would initiate a process to release data used to justify multiple rulemakings under the Clean Air Act (CAA), while simultaneously developing processes for protecting personal health information (PHI).

?The EPA agreed to eliminate concerns with their continued use of ?secret science? to justify their expensive regulations under the Clean Air Act. However, they?ve had eight months now, and we?re still waiting for any indication they?re working on an important part of the agreement,? said Vitter. ?We?re not asking for something unattainable or unheard of, we just want to hold the Agency accountable for the commitment they made to us.?

During the nomination process for Administrator Gina McCarthy, EPA agreed to EPW Republicans? request that the Agency acquire and adopt guidance to de-identify and code personal information from health studies, as well as work to facilitate independent verification of the data behind EPA?s scientific claims under the CAA. The EPA has kept the data supporting their science hidden from the public and Congress for decades. The agreement was part of the five transparency requests made by the EPW Republicans during the nomination process of McCarthy. Click here to read about what the EPW Republicans were able to get from the EPA regarding their transparency requests.

Text of Vitter?s letter to Perciasepe today is below. Click here for the PDF.

March 11, 2014

The Honorable Bob Perciasepe

Assistant Administrator

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

1200 Pennsylvania Ave, NW

Washington, DC 20460

Dear Assistant Administrator Perciasepe:

Pursuant to the agreement made during the confirmation process for Gina McCarthy to be EPA Administrator, I am following-up on the status of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency?s (EPA) commitment to incorporate standards for the de-identification of personal health information (PHI) included in the underlying data of studies relied upon by the Agency in justifying multiple Clean Air Act (CAA) rulemakings. This agreement was made with the understanding that EPA would work to facilitate independent verification of the data justifying EPA?s scientific claims under the Clean Air Act.  As you are well aware, part of the negotiated agreement for EPW Republicans to stop blocking now-Administrator McCarthy was in exchange for EPA initiating the process of developing guidance, as well as reaching out to relevant institutions, on how to de-identify and code personally identifying information from health studies.  After months of negotiations, on July 9, 2013, you personally agreed in writing to initiate the process for adopting guidance to protect PHI.

One of EPA?s decades-long excuses for denying the release of important data was that it contained personal information and could jeopardize the confidentiality of individuals in two cohorts included in the Harvard Six Cities and American Cancer Society studies on which EPA relies to justify the majority of its Clean Air Act regulations.  I am glad that during Administrator McCarthy?s nomination process, EPA agreed to work towards readily available and accepted standards to protect PHI and eliminate concerns with the Agency?s use of ?secret science.?  Part of EPA?s responsibility was determining if disclosure of certain data ?would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.?  As the input and output files are fundamental to conducting reanalysis, I repeatedly requested that EPA: (1) obtain all the data files; (2) determine which data files pose a threat to privacy; (3) immediately release all data files that do not pose a threat to privacy; and (4) investigate measures to remove all personal health information from the files that contain confidential data prior to release.  By this letter I am asking for the exact status of EPA?s review and adoption of procedures for de-identification.

EPA?s effort pursuant to our agreement is not a novel undertaking. As we discussed during the nomination process, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently issued guidelines on how to de-identify medical records in order to implement elements of the new healthcare law. Additionally, EPA itself worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to remove personal identifiers from data provided by Harvard University and released information on deaths originally obtained from the National Death Index (NDI), providing evidence that data containing personal information can be de-identified and released.  At this time, we are eight months into your completing your part of the agreement to accept and adopt similar standards.   Accordingly, I would like to know the exact status of your adopting such procedures and if I personally need to engage additional institutions, pursuant to our discussions, so that EPA receives additional guidance to fulfill its commitment to EPW Republicans.

Thank you,

David Vitter

Ranking Member

Environment & Public Works Committee